University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Professor of Geography Derek Alderman has spent over two decades researching the hundreds of streets, avenues, and boulevards that have been named after Martin Luther King Jr. and their significance in creating a shared public memory. “The use of place names for commemorative purposes is about creating psychological and emotional connections,” he said.
Two years ago, when Avenues of Dreams: Reclaiming MLK Boulevards film producers Amber Payne and Rayner Ramirez were planning a documentary about MLK streets, they reached out to Alderman, who suggested case studies and themes to help them develop their narrative. Last fall, Alderman met with Payne and Ramirez in Baltimore and shared some of his expertise and insight about MLK streets on camera.
He recently watched the film for the first time. “The producers were very generous to include me,” he said. “But I’m especially pleased that the film foregrounds and centers Black residents, community organizers, and development experts working to reclaim and restore MLK Boulevards, giving them the spotlight and amplifying their voices. It’s a chance for us to hear the people in those communities tell their stories in their own words.
“As a geographer, I am so pleased with the way Amber and Rayner framed the question of where we find these streets. They move beyond just seeing MLK Avenues as locational markers or memorials and situate these streets within the histories, development needs, and civil rights struggles of surrounding neighborhoods. Although the focus of the documentary is on Baltimore and St. Louis, the directors’ emphasis on place-based Black storytelling can help us understand the significance of many of the country’s MLK roadways.”
The documentary is now showing on Xfinity’s Black Experience Channel.
Brooks Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org, 865-974-5471)
Amanda Womac (email@example.com, 865-974-2992)